Which headphone stack is better: SMSL SH-9/SU-9 stack or Topping A30 Pro/D30 Pro stack?
Mar 14, 2021 at 4:19 PM Post #16 of 37

AT Khan

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I don't own any of those dynamic headphones except the Sennheiser 6XX. But in general, THX has NOT paired well with most dynamic drivers. So you probably should stay away from THX amps then.
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I have not listened to the SH-9 yet so I cannot recommend for or against it yet. I don't plan on purchasing anymore THX amps due their limited successful headphone pairings. So, I likely will not ever listen to the SH-9. I am VERY happy with my THX performance with my planars, so just this one THX SP200 amp will be a keeper.
IMG_9849.jpg

Man just looking at that collection right there...

Ok, tell me more. What's with this Schiit one then? Now I dont know but if not say an SH-9, I'm having to lean towards an A50s.
What you rather have me do?
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 4:54 PM Post #17 of 37

hottyson

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Man just looking at that collection right there...

Ok, tell me more. What's with this Schiit one then? Now I dont know but if not say an SH-9, I'm having to lean towards an A50s.
What you rather have me do?
Well, you are going to have to make the decision on your own based on your research, including asking others that have much better ears and experience than I. Of course that is what you are doing here on Head-fi. And, you will not find a better headphone forum than Head-fi, so you are on the right track. I do hope that you stay far away from anything made by Topping. My oldest amplifier that has been flawless for two decades is Ray Samuels which is American made by Head-fi member that put his heart and soul into his amplifiers.
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As for the Schiit amplifier that you inquired about in my photo. There is a sort of house sound to Schiit amplifiers. It is usually described as being more organic and a sort of old analog flavor of sound compared to the mass produced Chinese amplifiers. The Schiit amplifier in the picture is a balance Jotunheim that has been discontinued and replaced by an updated balanced Jotunheim 2 ($400 plus shipping and handling.) The same company also offers the Schiit Asgard 3. It is a single ended only amp and only costs $200. I actually do not think balanced out on headphone amplifiers makes much sense for most headphone users. The money spend on balanced headphone cables would be better spent on a higher end amp. (I make my own balanced headphone cables, which is very inexpensive to make.) The only reason I have a balanced amp is because it has balanced preamp outputs to my Emotiva and JBL monitors. This helps with the longer than usual cable runs around my computers and electronics that would otherwise introduce annoying static. Most home users do not require this.
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Schiit seems to be an okay company. They have had some slight problems with their designs in the start of their company but they were quick to make every one of their customers happy. They stand behind their products and are dedicated to the customer experience. I would stay away from Schiit B-stock as I have had problems with B-stock products and they will not take them back to trade up. You might actually save money in the long run staying away from Schiit B-stock items. Perhaps you might research them in these forums and give them a shot? You should look into their refund policy on Schiit product that allow you to try out and return. I have never bought and returned Schiit products but I have read plenty of posts of people that have taken advantage of this to try out their products and return them. Most of them end up trading up to better products, so the customer and Schiit are both happy in the end.
 
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Mar 14, 2021 at 8:40 PM Post #18 of 37

Fly2High

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OP here, at this time, I only have a pair of HiFiman Sundara headphones. So far we love them. Having fun learning how to listen with them by comparing cell phone, computer and an old Onkyo receiver. Definihear differences. We are looking for a more bass centric headphone for rock music but still love the Sundara for the detail and clarity and the exposure of so many highs we just never heard in music we though we were familiar with. It has made our music all new to us.

choosing the SMSL was in part on specs but also found someone else liked the Sundara with them.
Listening to a Canadian audiophile, the sound characteristics sounds good to me and matched the direction I would prefer.

thank you all for the feedback. Love it!!! Some really good comments that having opening my range so who knows. No yet Turing down these stacks but might be open to others
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 11:16 PM Post #19 of 37

Fly2High

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While it seems you are only worried about measurements and that is fine but the final link in the chain is the headphone and you never said anything about it. The headphone makes the final circuit of a amp and you have to take them into account as well as they all react differently and they are not a perfect load as the load of what the measurements show . So the headphones will be a bit different but you are not curious about that . That just seems a bit strange to me . I could have missed it but I don’t see a headphone in your post and without a headphone not much can be heard.
It was in post #3 but I added it just prior to this post too -Sundara

I will also be connecting a pair of active speakers - Edifier 1850DB
 
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Mar 15, 2021 at 2:03 AM Post #20 of 37

silent-circuit

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So... A90 is supposed to be THX tech, right? Only stolen. Worse.

Zero issues with dynamics so far... And I'm demanding.
 
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Mar 15, 2021 at 7:33 AM Post #21 of 37

Fly2High

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Here is a Head-Fi review that seems to suggest the SH-9 sounds good -
https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/smsl-sh-9.24823/

Here are the SMSL reviews that also suggest to me a good sound.

I would throw up Zeos review but I tend to find him liking nearly everything these days and I am not sure how critical a listener he is. Still learning about him. I am not stating these to dispute your claims but showing that there are reviews saying the SMSL stack is good. What I would love to be able to do a test them but I am already in a budget and to give 20% of my purchase would cause me to be out of money after reviewing 6 units assuming I keep one. I simply cannot afford that.

I am stuck listening to reviews and the help such as all of you have provided.

Could I ask for some assistance in detecting what the loss of sound? I would love for someone to also teach us new guys with their reviews a bit more. For example, if faster tones cause a loss of other tones, could you provide a song title you used to discern that? I would love to amass some music for testing and music I might like anyway. It would be very helpful. Should I get the opportunity to test, I could run that song and hear what you are saying occurs.

I have a question. I heard that tube amps add harmonics that are not in the original music. Does the Audio-GD amps add frequencies that are not stored in the music being played? If it does, is music more enjoyable to be accurately playing what is there or to be modified to become better than what is recorded? Is there any possibility for it to make some songs worse? I will make an assumption as an example here. If an amp adds harmonics that are reminiscent of being in a large open auditorium or cathedral. Is it fair for every song to sound like it was recorded in that space or should the song sound smaller since it was recorded in a studio, for example. OK, maybe a poor example but I ask which is more important to all of you, accuracy or reproduction or musicality? Right now, I want to hear all that is there. I am not sure what I feel about the addition of sound/harmonics.
 
Mar 15, 2021 at 7:37 AM Post #22 of 37

Fly2High

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I will throw this out there:

Does anyone else besides myself feel it is a little odd that only ASR has received the Topping A/D 30 Pro stack to test and it has been a month since he did and no other review has yet been released since? Most of what I have found are just release announcements.
 
Mar 15, 2021 at 8:23 AM Post #23 of 37

AT Khan

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Here is a Head-Fi review that seems to suggest the SH-9 sounds good -
https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/smsl-sh-9.24823/

Here are the SMSL reviews that also suggest to me a good sound.

I would throw up Zeos review but I tend to find him liking nearly everything these days and I am not sure how critical a listener he is. Still learning about him. I am not stating these to dispute your claims but showing that there are reviews saying the SMSL stack is good. What I would love to be able to do a test them but I am already in a budget and to give 20% of my purchase would cause me to be out of money after reviewing 6 units assuming I keep one. I simply cannot afford that.

I am stuck listening to reviews and the help such as all of you have provided.

Could I ask for some assistance in detecting what the loss of sound? I would love for someone to also teach us new guys with their reviews a bit more. For example, if faster tones cause a loss of other tones, could you provide a song title you used to discern that? I would love to amass some music for testing and music I might like anyway. It would be very helpful. Should I get the opportunity to test, I could run that song and hear what you are saying occurs.

I have a question. I heard that tube amps add harmonics that are not in the original music. Does the Audio-GD amps add frequencies that are not stored in the music being played? If it does, is music more enjoyable to be accurately playing what is there or to be modified to become better than what is recorded? Is there any possibility for it to make some songs worse? I will make an assumption as an example here. If an amp adds harmonics that are reminiscent of being in a large open auditorium or cathedral. Is it fair for every song to sound like it was recorded in that space or should the song sound smaller since it was recorded in a studio, for example. OK, maybe a poor example but I ask which is more important to all of you, accuracy or reproduction or musicality? Right now, I want to hear all that is there. I am not sure what I feel about the addition of sound/harmonics.
Yeah I saw this vid. I think SH-9 still makes more sense for lesser monies, unless you're not going all endgame here.
 
Mar 15, 2021 at 12:43 PM Post #24 of 37

Fly2High

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There are also these SMSL reviews about sound:


Here, the SH-9 doesn't do as well. What I dislike about this review is that he compares it to a amp twice the price. He also goes on to suggest that he prefers the Schiit Asgard 3. Of course, the Asgard 3 doesn't have balanced in.

I wonder what he would rate as the best balanced in and out amp for around $300 give or take. I think most of us think in terms of price brackets when shopping.
 
Mar 15, 2021 at 2:24 PM Post #25 of 37

Fly2High

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Someone here recommended the Audio-GD A-2 I think I recall and Currawong in those videos I just posted suggested the Asgard 3 over the SH-9. Currawong did say he used rather expensive headphones and amp when reviewing the SU-9.

My question is this. I know I cannot afford (possibly ever) a set of expensive headphones. For me that right now might be $750 or $1000 or so.
Will I be able to discern the differences when I will be keeping to sub $750 headphones with these suggested stacks or any of the other recommended components?

Let's say I went with the Asgard 3, will the increase in noise and THD and all those other measured items that categorize this as being poorer be able to be heard in a sub $750 headphone?

Is it better to be musical or clear and detailed? Right now I am leaning clear and detailed. At the same time I am not sure I know what 'musical' is? Right now, I want : cymbals to sound like cymbals, electric and acoustic guitars and bass to sound like guitars and bass, violins and string instruments and brass, etc to sound right.

What sound qualities does the Audio-GD A-2 impart on the music and are there any genre of music that will not be all that great on it? What makes it 'musical'?

Currawong commented that the SU-9 made a Elton John song sound off. Was it the amp or the DAC or the headphones? Was this just poor synergy or truly the fault of the DAC? How can you tell?

thanks
Frank
 
Mar 15, 2021 at 8:48 PM Post #26 of 37

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Mar 16, 2021 at 2:05 AM Post #28 of 37

AT Khan

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Thank you very much for the links.

Well, I've bit the bullet on the SH-9 finally. Took a lot of thought, but seems to me that's prob the best choice for a balanced amp where I still have the flexibility of single. Will put up a review once I try it out. Maybe down the road I can grab a balanced DAC.

You're right - he's comparing amps twice the price (which prob doesn't say too bad about the SH-9, methinks). Surely, at $500, well, you already have the A90 and well a wide variety of other amps that could just as well compete with $1000 or even higher amps.

For you, I don't think I'd entirely recommend the DACs too. Seeing right here, the DACs are almost twice the price of their amping counterparts. Don't know why so.

He does point it out here why it would make LESS sense:

 
Mar 16, 2021 at 4:17 PM Post #29 of 37

Fly2High

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I do not agree with Zeos there. To me, the DAC has so many more features and an upper level chipset that it should be more money. It uses the XMOS216 USB chipset and the Sabre ES9038Pro to get so much DSD512, MQA, etc support. It has Bluetooth input. digital volume control. Color filters, DSD filters. Good specs. Sound appears from those reviewers to be very good too. I look at it as being priced right. Add in that several of the other reviewers like the sound of the pair, not sure I would breakup the synergy there. What I left out is that I need 2 outputs from somewhere to go to my active desktop speakers. Either the DAC needs to be balanced ( and so will the amp) and SE so I can use the SE to the active speakers and the balanced to the headphone amp or I need pass though. Sure I can do a 'Y' cable but I would prefer not to. I would like volume control someplace but the speakers and HP amp have them so I can still make it work.

not sure I can afford home testing with some places charging me on returns.

If I went for an A90, I would have to step down to a lesser DAC. The A90 is $500 leaving me $250. What is a good balanced DAC for $250? I cannot afford the D90. Grabbing the A90/SU-9 would also bust my $750- 800 budget. Got to stay firm on that one. Originally, this was to be a stack for $400 total.

If instead I grabbed the SU-9, I would be looking at a single ended amp most likely to keep in my $750 budget of about $290. What is a good balanced amp for less than $300? I need both BAL and SE sounding good.

Zeos also says that $300 or below is a hard one to find a good amp for. There is nothing in this price range with balanced that is better. I do not want tubes and not sure of the Topping A50s.

Most of the Schiit stuff is either pricey or lacking features I would like. Also, I worry about the sound and if it is to my taste. I could test them out but I am back to needing to test them against something to compare. The Magnius doesn't sound great on SE and the Jotunheim is $400. Asgard 3 is $200 but it is only SE. Valhalla is tube. Not much to select from in the features I would like. Topping A50s is SE only.

If I kept the amp and searched for a DAC, which one? The Topping D30 Pro might be good and is $399. Need to wait to find out how it sounds though. Also, how would it pair with the SH-9? Might not be better than the SU-9 for the money.


As a stack, it has more features than the Topping A/D 30 Pro and only is lesser in bass and power. If I never buy a high ohm HP, most are rather expensive to boot, the SMSL stack could be fine.


As I have asked before, what is better stack for under $800? This is why I am posting for suggestions on what is the best way to spend $800 on amp and DAC to go with my Sundara HP and another more rock/bass focused HP in the future.
 
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Mar 27, 2021 at 7:48 AM Post #30 of 37

AT Khan

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I do not agree with Zeos there. To me, the DAC has so many more features and an upper level chipset that it should be more money. It uses the XMOS216 USB chipset and the Sabre ES9038Pro to get so much DSD512, MQA, etc support. It has Bluetooth input. digital volume control. Color filters, DSD filters. Good specs. Sound appears from those reviewers to be very good too. I look at it as being priced right. Add in that several of the other reviewers like the sound of the pair, not sure I would breakup the synergy there. What I left out is that I need 2 outputs from somewhere to go to my active desktop speakers. Either the DAC needs to be balanced ( and so will the amp) and SE so I can use the SE to the active speakers and the balanced to the headphone amp or I need pass though. Sure I can do a 'Y' cable but I would prefer not to. I would like volume control someplace but the speakers and HP amp have them so I can still make it work.

not sure I can afford home testing with some places charging me on returns.

If I went for an A90, I would have to step down to a lesser DAC. The A90 is $500 leaving me $250. What is a good balanced DAC for $250? I cannot afford the D90. Grabbing the A90/SU-9 would also bust my $750- 800 budget. Got to stay firm on that one. Originally, this was to be a stack for $400 total.

If instead I grabbed the SU-9, I would be looking at a single ended amp most likely to keep in my $750 budget of about $290. What is a good balanced amp for less than $300? I need both BAL and SE sounding good.

Zeos also says that $300 or below is a hard one to find a good amp for. There is nothing in this price range with balanced that is better. I do not want tubes and not sure of the Topping A50s.

Most of the Schiit stuff is either pricey or lacking features I would like. Also, I worry about the sound and if it is to my taste. I could test them out but I am back to needing to test them against something to compare. The Magnius doesn't sound great on SE and the Jotunheim is $400. Asgard 3 is $200 but it is only SE. Valhalla is tube. Not much to select from in the features I would like. Topping A50s is SE only.

If I kept the amp and searched for a DAC, which one? The Topping D30 Pro might be good and is $399. Need to wait to find out how it sounds though. Also, how would it pair with the SH-9? Might not be better than the SU-9 for the money.


As a stack, it has more features than the Topping A/D 30 Pro and only is lesser in bass and power. If I never buy a high ohm HP, most are rather expensive to boot, the SMSL stack could be fine.


As I have asked before, what is better stack for under $800? This is why I am posting for suggestions on what is the best way to spend $800 on amp and DAC to go with my Sundara HP and another more rock/bass focused HP in the future.
Hmmm/

Well I'm going for the SMSL SH-9 myself for now (I know it's not truly balanced, but lesser noise floor and stepped attenuator works for me), and I will bite on the Khadas Tone 2 Pro down the road (only one I see which is priced low enough, minimalistic and balanced pre-outs). That's what I've settled for.

Maybe more folks could respond to your query in guiding you on a more powerful combo.
 

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